Former Sarasota bishop Henry Lee Porter Sr., 74, was sentenced Friday to two terms of life in prison after being convicted by a jury in June of two counts of sexually abusing a child.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Krug sentenced Porter to consecutive life terms, meaning the sentences will run one after the other.
Porter's attorney, Brett McIntosh, said that they would be filing an appeal.
Prior to announcing his decision, Krug addressed the full courtroom and more than 23 people listening to the proceeding on Zoom. Krug's decision for a consecutive sentencing took into consideration many factors, including the many supporters who still believe Porter's every word, the nature of what occurred, and the abuse of power.
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"What I’m convinced of, you used a robe, a position taking the authority of God ... and that you used that holy position to sexually batter children," Krug said to Porter.
He added that those who came forward to recount the abuse during the trial were courageous.
Porter did speak prior to the decision about his sentencing. He stepped gingerly up to one of the two podiums in the courtroom and turned to look at the gallery where many of his congregation and supporters sat. Leaning into the microphone, he spoke softly.
"Though I be in shackles, in chains, I am innocent of the charges," Porter said.
Porter was arrested in January 2020 by Sarasota Police Department officers after several victims came forward with allegations of being sexually abused by the minister. He was charged with two counts of sexually assaulting a child, although investigations by police uncovered allegations by more than a dozen adults and children.
During the sentencing, Assistant State Attorney Ryan Felix called on five victims to give statements.
One-by-one they stepped forward, each staring Porter in the eyes as they gave their statements. There was no hatred thrown at Porter, with at least two victims saying they forgave him.
The first witness to speak recalled how when the abuse started at the age of 11, it set his life on a course of disfunction and set the tone for what he thought love was. It wouldn't be until many years later, after going to therapy, that he would find his path.
“He cloaked himself as a father figure, but under the veil was a predator, and we were the prey," the first witness to speak said.
He added it was a difficult decision to give his statement to police, but after many attempts of talking with Porter and trying to get him help — and Porter turning him down — he knew he had to step forward.
"We did not put you in jail or prison," he said. "This was a result of your decisions. I pleaded for you to get help."
Another witness recalled how the abuse led him down a path where he winded up hurting others, as a protective mechanism, so that he wouldn't ever be hurt again. Yet, with time, healing and medication, he found himself and is supported by his wife and kids.
The last victim to speak said it wasn't until after he had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest, died, and was revived, that he was set on the path of therapy which opened up things he'd forgotten about.
Despite all he'd suffered, he told Porter he didn't hate him.
"My prayer is that you come to understand ... the trauma you caused all around you," he said.
All throughout these statements, Porter sat in his orange jumpsuit, a frown etched into his face which rested on a closed fist, his body hunched forward. His eyes were staring intently at those addressing him.
Prior to the sentencing, more than 10 people submitted letters to Krug asking the judge to be lenient in his sentencing of Porter, many cited the impact the minister had on the community and their own lives. Krug informed the courtroom he had read all the letters sent to him regarding Porter.
Many of those who wrote letters were concerned about Porter's age and asked for the judge to be lenient or even consider giving him a second chance.
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The defense also called five people to the stand for character statements, each recounting what Porter had done for them.
When Rosa McKenzie was called to give her statement, she told the courtroom about how if it wasn't for Porter encouraging her to follow her dream of going on a mission trip to Africa, she may have never gone.
Vellie Crum, a teacher, said that it was Porter who convinced her to become a teacher after she'd confided in him how she loved working with children and thought teaching was so important.
The last witness McIntosh asked to speak was Henry Porter Jr. He along with two of Porter's other children, stepped forward together and stood next to each other as Henry Porter Jr. spoke.
Henry Porter Jr. started by saying that the last almost three years have changed their family's lives and that they're thankful for the support and love given to them. He added that the upcoming months would be about bringing healing and recovery to the community.
As Henry Porter Jr. looked at his father, he reassured him that they all unconditionally loved and respected him as their father and that the sentencing wouldn't change that.
"Long after the media attention has turned to the next story ... we will be here to walk with you on the journey you must take," Henry Porter Jr. said.
Before leaving the podium, each of his children told Porter that they loved him.
Gabriela Szymanowska covers the legal system for the Herald-Tribune in partnership with Report for America. You can support her work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America. Contact Gabriela Szymanowska at email@example.com, or on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Florida ex-bishop sentenced to life for sexually assaulting children